The fawn response
During the week I wrote about the 4F responses in terms of fight, flight and freeze. Today I am going to write about the fawn response with regards to childhood and interpersonal trauma.
The fawn type is a relatively new development in terms of trauma informed research and our survival mechanisms. Where previously only fight and flight were once recognised, we now see the introduction of freeze and fawn to our personal dynamic of reaction.
The fawn response is the dark side of people pleasing; where a survivor of trauma is always last on their list. Individuals who rely on fawn responses give their all in a one-sided relationship - whether that be with a partner or work colleague. A fawn type commonly feels overwhelmed with commitment and is unable to reject future demands. This can make it relatively easy to be taken advantage of or hurt as a survivors desire for acceptance may be met with further manipulation. These reactions of fawning are usually set to protect against or avoid conflict and results in the development of a codependent and toxic relationship.
When we look at the fawn type we must also keep in mind the codependent relationship that an individual may have. Development of the fawn typed begins in childhood; where a child learns early that safety and loving can be gained by being helpful and compliant to exploitative or reactive parents. This is usually the case where the child has eithet one or both narcissistic parent(s). When this dynamic occurs, the child usually becomes the parent; taking care of the needs of the parent who themselves acts like a child at times. This dynamic is usually seen with parents who are also alcoholics or addicts, narcissistic type parenting and can develop in adulthood through domestic violence and poor interpersonal relationships.
Adaptation to these Dynamics usually involves a child becoming the entertainer thus learning to become a jester to appease the intensity of abuse and being unofficially put in charge of keeping their parents happy. In adult relationships, a fawn type response can arise through having to appease a partner or colleague continuously due to their abusive demands.
Evolution of this dynamic usually involves scaring and shaming an individual into developing a poor sense of self. Walker (2014) states that of all response types, the fawn type is the most developmentally arrested in their healthy sense of self.
If an individual has reliance on a fawn response they will continuously put the wishes, demands and needs of others in front of their own. It is common for a survivor of childhood abuse and interpersonal abuse to believe that they do not deserve any basic human rights in comparison to any relationship in their lives. They will put the needs of others in front of their own, even at the expense of their own mental and physical well-being.
The fawn response can be subtle in nature and thus difficult to identify as your deep rooted need to avoid conflict and please to dull intensity becomes your personality. Facing great difficulty in saying no, survivors who rely on this response are actually more vulnerable to further instances of abuse.
Issues arise when a survivor of Childhood developmental trauma or interpersonal trauma begins to feel guilt and shame within situations that would naturally cause anger. This results in the fawn type accepting mistreatment in order to dodge altercations.
As a fawn type progresses within their relationships; pleasing others continuously, they begin to suppress and disconnect from their own emotions. This can result in a survivor unable to identify how they are feeling in any given moment or what they desire.
As a survivor continues to use this response they may find themselves suddenly erupting into rage or sadness at the most menial situations. Constantly validating others at the expense of the self leaves survivors unable to identify their emotions until they eventually spill over. This uncontrollable surge aids feelings of guilt and shame as a survivor feels they have no right or worth to feel or be emotionally consoled.
In order to relieve oneself from responding in a continual fawn response, it is essential to increase your awareness of not only each 4F response but your own human rights. Power comes from knowledge, being aware and understanding that each individual has their own set of human rights; including yourself - can be enlightening for a survivor of abuse or trauma. It not only allows us to see that we deserve a certain level of treatment in a relationship, but it also allows us to set healthy boundaries and not allow others more energy than we can give.